Hasidim and bikes don’t mix, at least not in Brooklyn.
Hot on the heels of news that the United Talmudical Academy has banned bike riding for students, comes word that the ultra-Orthodox enclave in South Williamsburg won’t receive any of the new bike-share stations being installed as part of New York’s effort to assemble a citywide bicycle infrastructure. Such stations are not welcome by the Hasidim, who view biking as an immodest activity.
The Wall Street Journal reports that “publicly, at least, South Williamsburg became a bike-share-free zone with hardly a peep from religious leaders.”
This diverges greatly from the brouhaha that arose in 2009 following the city’s establishment of bike lanes that ran along Bedford Avenue in the same neighborhood. At the time, the Department of Transportation agreed to remove 14 blocks of bike lanes in a move that was widely believed to be in response to pressure from Hasidim who were disturbed by scantily clad female bikers along the route.
Cycling advocates were angered by the city’s decision and urged riders to continue riding along Bedford Avenue, a main route to the Williamsburg Bridge.
“Cyclists will still use Bedford Avenue in large numbers, and we call on the Bloomberg Administration to provide the safe route they deserve. We encourage cyclists to continue using this route, and assert their legal right to the road,” announced a spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, a biking advocacy group.
Some bikers, unhappy with what a source close to the mayor had reportedly termed “an effort to appease the Hasidic community just before last month’s election,” even went ahead and re-painted the bike lane markings that had been sandblasted away.
This time, city planners are emphasizing that the South Williamsburg hole in the bike-share station map is attributable to “successful solicitation of public feedback.” The city’s transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan told the Journal, “I think it’s really important that the stations meet the needs of the communities. We’re not really looking to put them where there isn’t a lot of demand.”
Isaac Abraham, a former member of Community Board 1, maintained that the decision to keep bike sharing out of the neighborhood was strictly due to safety concerns and has nothing to do with cultural or religious preferences. “When you [ride] through Williamsburg, you’ve got 5,000, 10,000 children crossing the area,” he pointed out.
But no matter how one interprets the recent decision in 2012, there are still echoes of 2009. “The women come through on bikes, and they’re not dressed properly,” said Joel Weiser, a Hasidic musician who lives in the area. “They’re more naked than clothed.”